I was in my Santa Monica, California studio when news came of Bob Doney’s death. The email came from a friend who attended a recent event at my studio/home in Easton, PA. During an informal discussion about my work I was recounting some of the major influences of my career, and of course, Doney’s name came up quite a few times. Knowing I was away, she recalled the fondness and reverence of my memories and deemed it important that I be notified.
The news was more saddening than shocking since I knew Bob was getting up there in years. Also, I remember him saying “he’d rather wear out than rust out”, which was the work ethic he effectively imparted to students and other artists alike. He clearly understood the responsibility between the gift of talent and the effort required to fulfill its potential.
He was from the ‘old school’ of mentorship that didn’t mince words, time, or effort on irrelevancies or insincerity. For him, life would be too short at any age, especially since the task at hand for artists requires such an enormous amount of energy, focus, and commitment - prerequisites for finding, interpreting, and painting beauty.
But despite his no-nonsense, deliberate, and discerning character, he never succumbed to the cynicism rife in today’s popular culture. He was captivated by talent and art, whether it emanated from the canvas of an old master, a student, or the keyboard of a contemporary jazz pianist. Keeping your dreams alive and holding Art to higher standard were worthy aspirations.
Of all the professors I had through six years of higher education, Bob was the only one with the courage to impart the hard truths - that perhaps a person didn’t have the qualification or spirit to pursue an artist’s career and lifestyle. He fostered commitment, excellence, and never suffered mediocrity.
Though Bob and I are, stylistically speaking, light years apart to the casual observer, we always shared a deep and abiding love of nature and improvisational jazz. While I was a student, we spent countless Saturday evenings at the Deer Head Inn in Delaware Water Gap ‘drawing the music’ - the spirit of it all; thunderous choirs of crickets, fresh air, and pure, unadulterated jazz by some of the most talented musicians around.
At one point during my training in traditional skills, Bob suggested I complete one of his commissions, which for me, was comparable to winning the Nobel Prize. Those were the benefits that he provided to instill confidence. Equally important was his ability to set challenges just when you thought you’d reached a zenith - most of which came from his casually thorough understanding of art as a way of life.
I’ve had dozens of art instructors during my life but only a few significant mentors. Bob Doney was my teacher, advisor, inspiration, friend, confidante, mentor, fellow jazz aficionado, lover of nature, art history, and most important - a kindred spirit along the path that Art takes us.
For days before hearing of Bob’s demise I was thinking of him as I set up the studio for an extensive series of drawings that will be premiered this fall in an exhibition at the Kutztown New Arts Program. In the same way that my own father's words “If you can draw it, you can build it” still echo in my head, so do Bob’s words, “Nail down the drawing Harryn”.
I will forever be profoundly grateful for the time I spent with Bob Doney - a humanist and an Artist.
Paul Harryn (NCC, 1972-1974)
Santa Monica, CA
May 11, 2012